Get to know… Tony Westbrook

My writing journey…. really began with reading.

Ever since I can remember I was an avid reader. As a child, my favourite book was ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by the great author Arthur Ransome, about an idyllic childhood in the Lake District, with later books in the same series based in the Norfolk Broads, on the East Coast and Scotland, and even China. I will still re-read them again sometimes, when I am in need of an old friend, and they are still just as good as when I first read them. They are well written, with good plots and clear characters. All that makes them children’s books is that the main players are the children, not the adults.

However, I did enjoy writing and telling stories as a boy. My younger sister used to love a book called ‘My Naughty Little Sister’ by Dorothy Edwards and I found out that I had the ability to just start telling a similar story based on her characters but using whatever was happening to my own sister and our own family, and I could always make it into a proper tale with a compelling narrative and a twist at the end. My mother used to listen to these stories and was amazed when I told her that I had invented them. It was a talent I later used for my own children, using the character of a make-believe scarecrow (called Mr Scarecrow) that came to life at night and met up with some other scarecrows and two children who lived on a nearby farm. I tried to tell my children a different story based on these characters every night, but of course they always wanted their favourite story told to them again and again – which as I told them these stories just to help them go to sleep, that is what I did. But that was all the story telling or writing I had ever done until I came across The Writing Room about 7 years ago.

It was when I was between jobs, and my wife gave me a present of a 6-week course at Writing Room with Giovanna Iozzi on Life Writing. I really enjoyed it, but I have never been as nervous as when I submitted my first piece and then had to read it out to the group and get feedback. I’d never really done any serious writing before that, apart from business reports. In those pre-pandemic days all the courses were in person, so you couldn’t hide behind the computer screen. But the whole group, including the lovely Gio, were very kind and supportive of my efforts – and I think genuinely liked the work that I did on that course – anyway it gave me enough confidence to start my writing journey and beginning to slowly learn how to write rather better.

I have since done a number of writing courses at Writing Room with Kiare Ladner – Novella Fever, and Fiction Workshop Course (and also a few at Goldsmiths College with Gio and others whilst we could still meet in person) but I now try to use Writing Room’s online courses and all the online support and drop-ins offered by them, whilst I try to get my first novel written, finished and edited this year. But I am easily distracted by other literary ideas, like writing this piece, doing some autobiographical writing and also a slightly ‘off-the-wall’ idea I have had for an illustrated book using some of my watercolours. I have no thoughts about who the audience for these books will be – but it just seems like a good idea to write them. But I do have to get them both finished.

Recently I have also attended some Authors Lunches where an author talks about their latest work and of the troubles on the journey to how it got published. Clearly getting an agent on board is generally neccessary to get a book published. Writing Room holds an interesting session online occasionally, called ‘Meet the Agent’ which is a really interesting thing to do. It helped me decide which storyline to concentrate on for my novel. The other idea I had will have to wait for a future outing as a short story, which I intend to use to enter some competitions when I have finished my novel, to hopefully get me some publicity, as I approach agents. This sounds very efficient and organised – but I do have to actually finish my novel first, so I am going to stop writing this piece now, sign up to another Writing Room course and continue writing my novel.